Charlie & his mom, Sarah, talk about their Vendor for a Day experience
Dear One Step Away:
My name is Charlie Temple. I am 8 years old and go to the third grade at Tatem Elementary School in Collingswood, NJ. For Vendor for a Day, I met a vendor named June. June helped me experience what it is like to be homeless. June has been living on the street for almost three months. June sells copies of the newspaper “One Step Away” to earn money for food and other things he needs.
Me and my mom each got a bag of 20 papers. I had to sell them each for a dollar. They cost 25 cents for the vendors to buy. They get to keep the extra money they make. At first, I was nervous, then I started to get used to it. I couldn’t believe how many people ignored us. Then I felt what it was like when people ignore you. I would like for other people to know that homelessness is just something that can happen to you, it isn’t a disease you can catch, and it isn’t a name you should call people.
Dear One Step Away:
Charlie has always been interested in homelessness. We have done several service projects making, packing and delivering food for people, but lately he has been asking more difficult questions about how and why people become homeless and how they can find homes. I thought the best way for him to learn would be to meet real people, share in their experiences and hear their stories.
I have had the pleasure of working with several of the One Step Away writers at the RHD Central Office, but I had never worked directly with the vendors. I also consider myself to be fairly educated about homelessness and thought I was free of my own biases. However, when Charlie and I first started out our selling I caught myself saying “Please help me teach my son about homelessness” as a means of letting people know “I am not a homeless mother myself.” I was making homeless people the “other” and worse, setting the example for my son.
I was amazed at Charlie’s persistence with people who ignored him and tried to walk away -- and ashamed that my own shyness held me back. And I was humbled at the incredible strength the OSA vendors have to choose to sell the papers, and face the attitudes and rejections of the rest of us too busy or too caught up in our own assumptions to see each other as people.
June insisted on giving Charlie some of his earnings. Charlie really didn’t want to accept it, but it was clear that it was important for June to be able to reward Charlie for his work. Seeing what it took to earn $3 really affected Charlie. He kept that money in his pocket all day, not wanting to spend what might equal June’s only meal for the day. That evening we passed some street musicians. Charlie looked at me for just a second, then threw his money in their case. Somehow for him, it felt full circle. And watching my boy embody the values I don’t even always have the courage to follow myself, I thought maybe I had grown a bit, too.